When I saw the title of this book, Zen and the Art of Quilting, I had to read it. I’ve heard a lot about Zen in recent years, but I’d never heard it applied to quilting. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines Zen as seeking to attain an intuitive illumination of mind and spirit through meditation. Sandra Detrixhe defines Zen in her book, Zen and the Art of Quilting as a quilt that is begun out of a desire to make it rather than to have it.
As a quilter, I can certainly attest to that statement. Many times I see a gorgeous fabric or a kit that I just want to purchase and make something with it. Of course, not all of quilting is Zen quilting, but a lot of it is. Zen and the Art of Quilting describes the quilting process chapter-by-chapter and how the concept of Zen is applied to the art of quilting.
Detrixhe has wonderful stories in her book about other quilters and some of the Zen quilts they’ve made over the years. She talks about the art of quilting as being a “whole brain” activity. The left brain is busy measuring and cutting the pieces while the right brain is matching colors and patterns to create a lovely quilt.
At the beginning of each chapter, Detrixhe has a picture of a quilt block pattern and she talks about that quilt block pattern in that particular chapter. For instance, there’s a chapter that has a picture of the Log Cabin pattern. This very popular pattern is believed to have been created by quilters during Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency, who was affectionately known as the Log Cabin President.
Another chapter has the Wagon Wheel quilt block pattern which is believed to have been used during the Underground Railroad era. It was custom for slaves in a large plantation house to frequently air out quilts by hanging them on a clothesline outdoors. Although not documented, it’s strongly believed that when a quilt with the Wagon Wheel pattern was on the clothesline, it signaled that tonight would be a good night for the slaves to run. Men, soldiers, and many slave owners knew nothing of this signal and would assume that this quilt was just being aired.
In one chapter, Detrixhe discusses how many women first started to quilt. Sometimes it was a need to have a warm blanket while other times it was a baby quilt for a loved one. Most first quilts are not pieced together perfectly or stitched consistently, however, it is a quilter’s first attempt at making a quilt. As a result, many quilters will keep their first quilt as it has sentimental value and a feeling of accomplishment to it.
In Zen and the Art of Quilting, Detrixhe describes a common dilemma that many first-time quilters face and that is simply to begin cutting the fabric. After purchasing all the fabric needed for a quilt, it is not uncommon for a first-time quilter to hesitate to begin and the fabric may actually sit around for a month or two. No one wants to cut the fabric wrong. I know this may sound silly to someone who has never quilted before, but it’s very true. The first time is the hardest and that’s why a first-time quilt means so much to most quilters. Detrixhe has several stories from experienced quilters on this subject.
In Zen and the Art of Quilting you’ll read a lot about the history of quilting which is quite interesting. Detrixhe does not go into detail about the history of quilts, just mentions a few things here and there which makes her stories interesting. It does arouse my curiosity and I may have to find some time to research the history of quilt making more thoroughly. Quilting seems to have started in Asia according to Detrixhe, and was highly influenced by the Europeans.
Throughout Zen and the Art of Quilting, Detrixhe gives quilting tips and suggestions for quilting projects. She suggests starting a quilting bee or making a memory quilt for a loved one. She does have some great project ideas in her book and for that reason alone, I’d encourage a quilter to read Zen and the Art of Quilting.
Besides comforting someone on a cold night, a quilt is a creative process filled with meaning, community, spirituality, family, and love which many times means it’s a Zen quilt. Zen and the Art of Quilting is a very relaxing book to read even if you’re not a quilter.
Resources: Zen and the Art of Quilting by Sandra Detrixhe